On American Consumerism: An Analysis of John Updike’s A & P A surface reading of John Updike’s A & P reveals a story about a young man’s impulse to take a stand and face the consequences of his decision. However, beyond the usual understanding of A & P being a “coming of age narrative” is the analysis that John Updike’s masterpiece tells more about an individual’s struggle in a consumerist society…
Since the story is published in the 1960’s, it gives us a picture of a conservative society where people adhere to traditional values and norms. In those days, conforming to the standard appearance and behavior was necessary, especially to middle class families who aspire for social equality through the American dream of typically owning a house, driving a car, and buying enough goods. Adding to this set-up is the industrial development which allowed grocery store chains like A & P to dominate and offer packaged consumer goods around the country. It is this typical middle-class setting in the 1960s which establishes the internal conflict of a young man against his society. In the story, the ultimate act of Sammy to quit his job represents non-conformity to a social structure that is based on commoditization of goods and perpetuation of conservative values. In Sammy’s words, the setting of the story points to an area “right in the middle of town” where “you can see two banks and the Congregational church and the newspaper store and three real-estate offices ". ...
As such, Sammy becomes part of this materialistic environment which deals with people purchasing goods and individuals finding meaning on things. Because of this, it is no surprise that the narrator himself is inclined to also objectify the things and people around him. At first, he describes the empty store as a “pinball machine” and searches for the girls show up, as if to find the objects of his attraction. Meanwhile, he labels other customers as “sheep” and describes a girl’s rear as a “can” which means that he compares people to things and animals. In Sammy’s eyes, people lose their humanity once they enter the confines of A & P. He sees the girls inside as mere sex objects, viewing them in the same way as customers choose their products. He judges the girls based solely on their physical features in the same way as customers judge a product by its package. Like a consumer who judges a product based on commercials, Sammy is also fascinated by the typical standards of beauty in media advertisements. For Sammy, old and less attractive customers are worthy of his mockery – labeling them as “a witch about fifty with rouge on her cheekbones and no eyebrows”, classifying them “sheep pushing their carts down the aisle”, and calling them “house slaves in pin curlers”. Apparently, this view women also mirrors to what Hatcher (1997) believes that Sammy’s character reveals his biased thoughts that it is all right for the young girls to walk around the store in their bathing suits, but other women, ‘women with six children and varicose veins’, should put on some clothes before they get out of their cars. On the other hand, it is clear that the nineteen year old Sammy sees attractiveness ...
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When looking at this story through a Marxist lens, one can see that there is the aspect of societal classification and the ethics of a society that is consumer conditioned. The Marxist Socialism school of though holds that those who earn a salary, also refereed to as the working class, are molded by the state they are in, that is, wage-slavery.
What cultural references are presented through the characters and objects in A&P by John Updike?
This story “A & P” occurs in 1961, in a small Great Britain town's A&P food market. Sammy, the narrator, is presented to be a grocery checker. He discovers himself interested by a particular band of ladies.
John Updike is not dissimilar in this regard as he utilized the character of Rabbit Angstrom as a vehicle to comment upon the state of the nation, and the means by which cultural and ideological progressions were taking place within the very core of American thought and culture.
He, hungry for opportunity, declares aloud to quit his job in order to be heard by the girls. But in contrast to his expectations, they do not stop and “watch….their unsuspected hero” (Updike). His limited experience fails him to perceive the reality that lies beyond romantic appearance of the world.
Consumerism mainly focuses on the consumer’s inclinations towards certain products and brands. In other words, it seeks to answer the question- why are consumers inclined to purchase a particular product? An intricate look into this will reveal that most research in this area deals with goods of ostentation otherwise termed as luxurious goods.
The main character of the narrative is Sammy; an eighteen years old young man from a small community outer to Boston who jobs at an A & P Superstore. Sammy looks like a typical boy who appeared as a tad bit weary of the usual patrons who enter into his superstore.
Sammy within this story is one such character who is stuck in the somewhat precarious situation that engulfs literally every child or mature like when the transition has to be taken along the way of childhood
so many times in the media and the next time one is in the supermarket they will immediately feel as though that product is already familiar to them, compelling them to purchase it. This topic has become so prominent that there are already numerous debates on the
It is also apparent that the manner of consumption in America is an emerging one. A deeper understanding of the American consumer would therefore be useful in an analysis of the consumption rates and behavior. The
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